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[Now Streaming] The Best of 2011

Written by on January 5, 2012 

Each week within this column we strive to pair the latest in theatrical releases to worthwhile titles currently available on Netflix Instant Watch. But this week, we’re taking a break from our regular format to wrap up our Year-End 2011 coverage by offering the very Best of 2011’s Now Streaming releases, as determined by the TFS Staff.

Kicking off our Best of 2011 picks is TFS President & Managing Editor Dan Mecca, who braved theaters this year for better or worse to review such big releases as Jack and Jill, Fright Night and Captain America, has filled his Top 10 list with daring debuts, spectacular sophomore efforts, and stunning masterworks from some of cinema’s most celebrated auteurs. His picks here are alternately quirky and insightful.

Ceremony (2010) An Honorable Mention on Dan’s list, Max Winkler’s offbeat comedy also earned a spot on our Top 10 Directorial Debuts for, “Operating with a level of confidence equal to that of Wes Anderson in his splendid debut Bottle Rocket,” to tell the odd yet charming tale of a young writer (Michael Angarano) on a quest to stop the wedding of his older ex (Uma Thurman). Lee Pace and Reece Thompson co-star. [TIFF review]


The Robber (2010) This German thriller tells the shocking true story of Austrian marathon runner Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust), who used his athleticism to moonlight as a bank robber. According to Dan, “Heisenberg’s high-octane take [on Rettenberger’s story] moves at an impressive clip yet finds the time to meditate on why we love the thrill of the chase.”


Tuesday, After Christmas  (2010) From Romanian director Radu Muntean comes this tremulous love triangle tale. Mimi Branescu stars as a married man who must choose between his wife (Mirela Oprisor) and mistress (Maria Popistasu). Says Dan, “Beautiful lighting, courtesy of Tudor Lucaciu, allows shots to linger uncomfortably long as the characters search for the right words to say.” [NYFF Review]


Next up are picks from TFS’s Associate Editor Nick Newman, who regularly covers the news beat and whose Top 10 was packed with moody, character-driven dramas, and punctuated with some big budget adventures. Though wildly different in their execution, his streaming selects each offer thought-provoking tales of women in peril.

Certified Copy  (2010) Also featured in our Top 10 Endings of 2011, Abbas Kiarstami’s mind-bending romance weaves a curious and captivating tale of a man and a woman with an enigmatic relationship. Nick declares, “Most could simply enjoy this as a romantic treatise with a lovely background; those digging further will be greatly rewarded.” [TFS Review]


The Arbor (2010) Admittedly, I didn’t get the appeal of Clio Barnard’s avant-garde doc The Arbor, but Nick, who also wrote about his love for the film in our Top 10 Documentaries post, asserts “The Arbor…unlike any [doc] I’ve seen before, mixing the form with portions of theater and covering it all with a narrative sheen. It would be satisfactory to simply sit through such an experiment, but the thing has got to go and break your damn heart over and over, right up to the point where reality is almost too much to take.”

Meek’s Cutoff (2010) Beyond earning Nick’s #3 spot, Kelly Reichardt’s pensive Western also snagged a spot on our Top 10 Openings List. This ambitious indie follows the arduous trek of a pack of 1845 settlers as they traverse the treacherous Oregon Trail. Says Nick, “Reichardt depicts the West in a trance-like way, capturing the time and place as an interminable purgatory.” [TIFF review]


As you may notice from my coverage as one of TFS’s Senior Writers and Film Critics as well as your loyal Now Streaming curator, I tend to favor a mix of dark and light in moviemaking. For every gritty tale of regret and revenge that’s made Top 10, there’s a cheekier offering with a wry or outrageous sense of humor. The titles below are likewise a mixed bag of intense drama and inspired moments of levity, sometimes seen within the same film.

Trollhunter (2010) An Honorable Mention on my list for its earnestness and sharp sense of humor, André Øvredal’s directorial debut was an absolute delight that blended the found footage genre with plenty of cheek and top-notch special effects to create a surprising and scary horror-comedy. This Norwegian adventure centers on a trio of student filmmakers who discover a whole new world when they cross the path of a peculiar poacher and his mythic prey. [My full review]


I Saw the Devil (2010) Also featured on fellow critic Raffi Asdourian‘s Top 10 is Jee-Woon Kim’s horrifying and harrowing Korean revenge-thriller that I assert, “took this twisted subgenre to new heights and all-new lows with a tale so full of blood, gore and brutality that it’s sure to sicken even the most hardcore horror fan.” Centering on a cruel game of cat and mouse between a serial killer and the secret agent beau of one of his victims, “the film features a bevy of brutally disturbing scenes that are so well-coordinated they feel like an operatic ballet. This film digs its hooks deep in you within the very first scene and just when you think it can’t get any more over the top, it flips the script and leaves you hallucinating about what you just witnessed,” adds Raffi. (My full review.)


Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011) One of my favorite docs of 2011, this thrilling behind-the-scenes look at Conan’s Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour offers a hilarious but oft hard to watch portrait of O’Brien at his breaking point. And as I said, “It’s one of the best showbiz docs you’ll see, fully encompassing the creative process in a demystified and gripping way.” Whether you’re Team Coco or not, it’s a doc worth the watch.


TFS CEO & Editor-in-Chief Jordan Raup, who recently broke down the Classic Films You Must See to properly enjoy Hugo, had a Top 10 full of cinematic big-budget wonders and stirring indie dramas, but only his Honorable Mention pick Senna –which was featured in a recent column—is currently available on Instant Watch. Thankfully, more stellar documentaries that likewise got mentions on our Top 10 Documentaries list are Now Streaming.

Life in a Day (2011) At Sundance last year, Jordan said of Kevin Macdonald’s crowd-sourced documentary that aims to encapsulate contemporary human life through a bevvy of YouTube submitted vids, “These filmmakers have reversed the negative connotations related to the artistic quality of YouTube, and created one of the most inspiring documentaries here at the festival and have set a benchmark for 2011.” [Sundance review]

 Bill Cunningham New York (2010) Bill Cunningham is an octogenarian photographer who resolutely rides around New York City with a camera and a passion for everyday fashion. TFS Staff Writer John Fink describes this winsome doc, which is on the Oscar shortlist for the Best Doc category, as “An intimate and fascinating film by Richard Press, Cunningham (despite some push backs) allows the filmmaker into his rather monk-like life.” [Trailer]


Armadillo (2010) At 2010’s TIFF, TFS Staff Writer James Battaglia gave this Danish doc about the war in Afghanistan a rare 10 out of 10 in his review. John Fink who curated the Top 10 Docs list, succinctly surmises the film’s appeal saying, “Armadillo pulses with the intensity of a Bourne film. Following a group of Danish soldiers at war in Afghanistan, the film’s professional style (and use of filters/effects) has been considered controversial amongst doc purists, but doesn’t dissuade it from being one of the most powerful in the genre.” [TIFF review]

 For more picks, check our Now Streaming archive.  

Is there a title Now Streaming that you think is worth recommending?
Email your pick(s) to Kristy or tweet @KristyPuchko.

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